How Trauma Causes Addiction

trauma and addiction

Childhood trauma and other traumatic events are usually the main cause of daily struggles for some people. The act of keeping trauma-related memories hidden and out of mind can be exhausting and over time, a person can develop their own skills to cope with it. However, even after years of keeping these memories, one bad day can make it all come lose once again. It could be as simple as feeling overwhelmed with work or having an argument with other people. Truth is we all have experienced something traumatic and these traumatic memories can resurface anytime especially at times when our guard is down. But how can a trauma lead to addiction?

What is Trauma?

By definition, trauma is the response to something deeply distressing or disturbing that overwhelms a person. These can result in a person’s inability to cope with the situation and causes them to feel helpless. It also diminishes their sense of self as well as their capacity or ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences. This is why some people who have experienced a traumatic event tend to shut themselves out to others in order to avoid feeling or recalling these events.

Common Symptoms and Responses of Trauma

Different traumatic situations often result in different responses. Some people may be overwhelmed while others do not show any emotions at all but this does not mean that they don’t feel any trauma. Here are some of the most common symptoms or responses that you can see in a person who experienced trauma:

  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Denial
  • Fear
  • Shame

All of these can lead to insomnia and nightmares while others can have difficulty maintaining a relationship. In some cases, a person who had trauma can exhibit emotional outbursts and may have the following physical symptoms:

  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Altered sleeping patterns or difficulty in sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Changes in appetite
  • Gastrointestinal problems

If the trauma is has affected their psyche, trauma can lead to anxiety and depression. They can also develop post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD as well as dissociative disorders. In some cases, trauma can also lead to substance abuse problems and can form an addiction to drugs and alcohol if not addressed properly.

Why Do Trauma Victims Turn to Substance Abuse?

The effects of trauma can be difficult to manage since victims have negative emotions towards it. Some individuals seek unhealthy ways in order to cope and deal with it. The most common form of coping mechanism is by abusing substances. Reports show that 90% of people in a behavioral health care facility have experienced certain trauma. These traumas could be chronic and have occurred for several years. It is also believed that people who put themselves in harmful situations or engage in risky behaviors are most likely to be victims of trauma as well.

Truth is, there is a myriad of reasons why someone would turn to substance abuse after a traumatic event. It could because:

  • They want to dull the nagging symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.
  • They want to forget what they have experienced.
  • They need something to stop the anxious or depressed thoughts.
  • The need to feel “fine” and “forget” after such events.
  • They want to feel or are looking for comfort.

The frequent use of alcohol and drugs may initially help in managing these signs and symptoms and provides them with what they think is healing, but over time, the “cure” will damage them physically and mentally just like trauma did.

The Relation of Addiction and Trauma

A research study done in Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Experience showed that a child who has experienced one or more traumatic events in their lifetime is more likely to become an alcoholic. 60% of these children are more likely to become obese and are 46 times more likely to become drug addicts when compared to those who haven’t experienced trauma. In some similar studies, the Veterans Administration estimated that 75% of veterans who have PTSD have abused or are abusing drugs and alcohol.

The reasons for this is that many victims of trauma turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. With overwhelming symptoms like depression, social anxiety or withdrawal, agitation, hypersensitivity to noises and sudden movements and insomnia – victims believe that these symptoms can be managed by using stimulating or sedating substances. Once they have developed a dependence on these substances, it is a lot harder for the user to let go of their addiction. However, addiction becomes another form of trauma and when an actual cure can no longer help them, victims suffer more pain than ever.

Another possible reason why a person with trauma turns to drugs and alcohol is because of the environment they are in. Living in dangerous areas and places, where crime and violence are common along with bad influences from family or acquaintances, can also lead someone to use and abuse these substances.

Besides the environmental factors, addiction could also be genetic and people who have trauma with addictive tendencies may be linked to this factor. However, there is no definitive conclusion has been made to prove this to be true.

Therapies Used for Trauma

It is sad to say there is no cure or quick solution to trauma but there is hope for victims. Thanks to the hard-working men and women in our health care systems, there are effective therapies that exist today which can help trauma victims all over the country.

Working with a therapist or going to trauma-focused/trauma-informed therapies can help survivors on a daily basis. Therapists can also use psychotherapy alternatives which include exposure therapies that can help victims with desensitization. CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, on the other hand, can help change the victim’s thoughts and behavior patterns while Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing can help them process the events and memories.

Other therapies include somatic therapies like Somatic Experiencing and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy where the patients are taught how to process trauma with the use of their body. Hypnosis, trauma-sensitive yoga, mindfulness, and craniosacral therapy are also helpful to the patient while acupuncture and art therapy can also help them release tension and stress.

Medications are also given to patients (most often as a last resort method of treatment); primarily anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants. Both are given to help manage the symptoms and make them more manageable so it does not affect their daily lives.

Final Thoughts

Trauma is something we cannot avoid; all of us can experience this one way or the other. Some of us may outgrow it and learn to be strong from these experiences but unfortunately, not all of us can do the same. However, drugs and alcohol are not the solution to such a problem. It will only put more strain on yourself, mess up your thoughts and body, and will only result in more pain.

If you are suffering from trauma or know someone who does, it is best to seek medical help immediately. Self-medication may provide you with a feeling of numbness to the events, but at the end of the day, the trauma, fear, and anger are still there. So seek help while you still can, it’s out there!